How To Avoid The “All Or Nothing” Diet Mentality

by Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Last Updated: January 18, 2021

Do you know that striving for the “perfect” diet can actually sabotage your health goals? When you have an “all or nothing” mentality related to food, it can cause guilt, frustration, and stress. This mindset can put you in a compromising position of not having a positive relationship with food, thus keeping you further away from your health goals. However, when you shift your mindset to think differently about how you approach sustainable health changes, it makes it much easier to avoid the trap of perfection. It encourages you to focus on the big picture.

What does the “all or nothing” mentality look like?
Let’s say you are trucking along by following your diet of the week, but suddenly a few days in, you see cookies in the break room. You know your diet tells you that you “shouldn’t” have one, but you really want to! So, you eat the cookie and then feel immediate guilt. Thoughts of “I blew it” or “I’m officially off track with my diet” may result in you having another cookie (or five) before you get back to it. Soon, you feel stuffed and uncomfortable. This is all or nothing thinking. You either have no cookies, like the first few days of the diet, or have all the cookies. When you’re in this mentality, you find yourself eating “perfectly” for a period of time, but because this is too restrictive and difficult to maintain for the long-term, you end up getting off-track. This period is then followed by guilt, which leads to feeling like you need to “reset” by trying out a new restrictive diet or plan.

How can I shift to a more sustainable mindset?
Eat the cookie you truly wanted and move on with your day. When you know you can have something again in the future, you avoid the “last supper” phenomenon, which leaves you stuffed, uncomfortable, and feeling less than your best. When you view food from the lens of food freedom, meaning that you eat the foods you want and listen to your body’s needs, your mindset shifts, and bingeing will likely happen less and less often. After all, you can have these foods at any time. No need to eat yourself sick on them.
All or Nothing Mentality
“Blew it” by eating a cookie, might as well have five
Sustainable Health Mindset
Enjoyed a cookie can have more another time
What do sustainable health changes look like?
Instead of viewing food through the eyes of restriction, try shifting to a mindset of inclusion and balance. For example, if your goal is to get more nutrients in your diet by eating less added sugar, try shifting your goal from “I will never eat sweets again” to “I will fill my plate up with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats and if I am craving something sweet I will enjoy it and move on.” This allows flexibility and keeps the focus on what you want to have in your diet rather than what you will take out. Often, letting go of the short-term result and focusing on lifelong behavior yields much better results for both your mind and body. If you are ready to kick restrictive, short-term diets to the curb and focus on sustainable health changes, set up an appointment with one of our Kroger Health Dietitians today.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily is a passionate clinical dietitian who strives to make nutrition changes sustainable while improving peoples’ relationship with food. She makes every effort to get to know each one of her clients on a personal level to ensure whole-person care. Emily is specialized in nutrition for oncology and cancer prevention/treatment. She has expertise from diabetes and heart health to hormonal health and fertility issues. Emily is an avid indoor cyclist and loves spending time in the kitchen cooking up nutritious and energizing meals.